Even Divas Get the Groupie Chills

So I’m flipping through a book Bette Midler wrote about her first world tour in 1980. In it there is a page entitled “Dear Diary,” in which she discusses her initial discomfort with her groupies (in this case, a pair of young sisters from Idaho) and ultimately her realization that the relationship is a symbiotic one, one that is necessary for her as a performer and a person:

“I guess it’s always troubling to be faced with that kind of devotion. Like most performers, I deal with intense adulation from the multitudes, but as soon as it comes from a focused source…well, that’s another matter altogether. Maybe that’s why so many performer friends of mine refuse to have any dealings with even their most ardent fans…But in some strange way, they give–to me–meaning. I always feel more solid, more real when they’re around. They make me think that maybe there is more to me than I know.”

 

FullSizeRender (1)

Meet The Who’s Kingmakers “Lambert and Stamp,” If You Dare

Let’s be clear: this is not a documentary about The Who. If you don’t already know the history of the band, you don’t want to start with this movie.

But that’s not “Lambert and Stamp”s job. And it’s not to say it couldn’t be enjoyed by someone who doesn’t know or particularly like The Who, though it is at times a fucking mess to watch (we’ll get to that). No, this film’s focus is on a creative force we don’t otherwise hear about, which is a shame because they have more personality than certain band members (*ahem Roger Daltrey ahem*): Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, two charming young cinephiles who in 1963 took the fledgling band The High Numbers (as they were known at the time) under their wings in order to make an art film about managing a rock ‘n roll band. Art imitating life and all that. But again these were filmmakers, and with little to no knowledge of the music industry, my guess is they didn’t realize how successful they’d be at it.

The story revolves around the irresistible quality of the pair who met through film work in London, Lambert an Oxford-educated, upper-crust gay son of a classical composer; Stamp a working-class East Ender with a quick wit and filthy mouth (just my type). And in this most unlikely of matches, the stars aligned.

lambert and stamp

Soulmates of sorts: Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert

In less than five years the duo groomed those four deviants into some of the most famous deviants in rock history. It’s a tale we’ve heard before in Brian Epstein/The Beatles, Andrew Loog Oldham/The Stones, etc., but their shared vision and combined allure is what gave Lambert-Stamp that something special, something no one was immune to. Least of all themselves.

The problem with this film is that it’s just so damn disjointed; it was difficult even for me, as someone who does know the band’s story, to follow the trajectory of the timeline or see why certain segments were even included. And I know I started this piece off by saying it’s not a doc about The Who, but I still wanted to see a clearer picture of what these guys actually did to make them megastars, and instead we get miles and miles of “Oh yeah, their ideas were great! Everyone loved ‘em!” Tell me the damn ideas. There isn’t even a relevant comment on the 30-second footage of The Who’s Woodstock performance. And I’m pretty sure that’s, like, a rule about Woodstock footage.

While Chris Stamp is hugely entertaining even at the time of filming, some of his interview clips go on far too long, and some side stories become simply unnecessary when we find that the ending is a manic scramble to tie up loose ends. Keith Moon’s death is thrown sloppily in and Kit Lambert’s death three years later is barely even addressed. And at some point before all this everyone got pissy and hated each other and sued L&S for mismanagement. My date fell asleep.

But there are beautifully redeeming moments here too, like Pete Townshend trying out “Glittering Girl” on the two, who were regular and notable influences on Townshend’s composing, Lambert in particular. There’s also sweet footage of Lamp (that’s their celeb couple name, I just decided) meeting Jimi Hendrix for the first time, by whom they were so smitten that they created their own record label in order to produce him. The initiative on these gents! Lordy!

It’s a wild romp in the catalogues of music history, however disheveled the story arc and oddly incoherent the soundtrack. But this is still a Master class of a rockumentary, not a breezy VH1 Behind the Music. To enjoy something like “Lambert and Stamp” you have to go one step further than being a fan of the music. Ask yourself: Would The Who have become who they are without their seductive managers? Do I care?

You may not actually learn the answer to that, but you’ll know whether or not you want to spend two solid hours figuring it out.

Resurrecting the Groupie: A Quick Note on the Reviled “G Word”

One of my first childhood memories is dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” in front of the living room TV with my older sister. As he did most people on the planet, he rocked me. I suppose other things about being a four-year-old got me going, like baby dolls and birthday cake and my mommy, but even then I knew there was something special about the relationship I had with this music man; my baby cheeks flushed at his voice, my feet moved with his pulse. I studied his 1991 album Dangerous faithfully; I ran my fingers over the glossy liner pages daily and developed my reading skills in order to discern the lyrics. By the time I was five or six and had learned a thing or two from Disney movies about romance, I was certain Michael was my boyfriend and any day now he would come knocking on my door to marry me. It’s probably best that dream didn’t come true, but it opened the door to a long and beautiful relationship with the power of music and the people who make it.

It wasn’t until I purposefully heard Abbey Road for the first time, sprawled on the floor of my 14-year-old bedroom, that I made the transition into full-blown music obsessive. I listened to every Beatles song, read every book, watched every video countless times. Their emotional language electrified me beyond reason. I poured my devotion into studying everything about them and their cultural impact. While other kids in my high school entertained future career ideas like nurse or chef, I saw myself as a rock ‘n roll historian. Or Paul McCartney’s next wife.

IMG_4971

High school era Sass. I carried that book everywhere for about two years.

At that point in my adolescence it wasn’t just pictures of the classic rock gods that decorated the walls of my bedroom and my heart, but also their goddesses. I became fascinated by the glamorous women by their sides, the muses who, for better and for worse, inspired the most beautiful, aching, electrifying pieces of sound of the day. I worshipped women like Patti Boyd, wife of George Harrison and then Eric Clapton, whose demure beauty galvanized some of the most evocative love songs in history (“Something,” “Layla,” “Wonderful Tonight”). Soon I discovered the bold, business-minded women like Cherry Vanilla and Chris O’Dell who held invaluable inner-circle music careers while getting whatever and whomever they wanted. Those women to me were the ultimate groupies.

cherry vanilla

Cherry Vanilla with Mick Ronson. As David Bowie’s PR queen she helped make him one of the most enigmatic personas in rock. You think he did that shit on his own? Puh-lease

The word “groupie” evokes intense responses. It brings to mind sinful women who will do anything to be near someone famous or passionless socialites who use their musical conquests as social leverage. The riotous days of ‘80s metal and salacious stories of basic bitches blowing roadies for backstage passes doesn’t help things, but that is just one aspect of a music culture whose roots lie in sexual expression. It’s not the only way.

I hold the idea of a sacred relationship between those who create art and those who receive it, who religiously dance, laugh, cry, and scream to the tune of their truth. A super-groupie is a super-fan, one who has a spiritual and/or primal desire to reflect, celebrate, and nurture the source of the art. At its core, the creator(-trix) of the music and the one who truly loves it burn as twin flames.

That relationship still exists, though it looks different now that major artists are harder to access and too many independent artists are too exhausted creating, distributing, and marketing themselves to connect intimately with their fans. A new generation of groupies is growing, so let them back in. With modern skills, discernible taste, and hearts on fire, they won’t stay in the dark much longer anyway.

Bonus: they’re a really good indicator of whether your band rocks or sucks. Weeee

 

My Key to the Kingdom: How I Partied With the Rock Stars at Hangout Music Festival

I’m between worlds, done with lunch and not quite ready to kick it in the sand. The shaded patch of sod that transitions the dining hall to the private beach is perfect for this moment, a complimentary Malibu cocktail in one hand, a swag e-cig in the other. The royal gulf waters crash playfully in front of me; the sun shines so hard I think it might burn out. It’s hot at Hangout today, so I’m relaxing before making my way through the throngs for one of my most anticipated sets.

I should be thinking about St. Lucia and how excited I am to see them after my adventures at CounterPoint last year, but instead I’m playing with visions of standing on the side of the main stage at Foster the People later in the evening, a curious occurrence that I’ve always wanted to experience. Who are those people, and how do I get up there? When right then the band and their merry company roll up, I’m not entirely surprised.

There are a number of pale, young, dark-haired musicians wearing Ray Bans here, so when the rambunctious troop plunks down at the oversized chessboard station it takes me a minute to decide if that toothy handsome devil hovering by the palm tree is indeed frontman Mark Foster or not. When I notice he’s pairing his beach threads with white patent leather loafers, I don’t waste another second. I get up to introduce myself.

hangout mark foster

Mark Foster. Photo by Nina Westervelt via nylon.com

I didn’t envision all this a few weeks ago. The plan for that weekend was to go back to the earth–not the stars–at Kinnection Campout, a small intentional gathering right here in the Asheville area. My pals BomBassic were booked for a prime Saturday night set, and most of my crew was going to support them and some other regional artists over an intimate weekend in the midst of Blue Ridge beauty. But my intention took a sharp turn when Marley Carroll informed me he got booked to play a DJ set at Hangout, the rowdy, beachside festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama. He waved the lineup in front of me, all shiny and beautiful with the likes of Future Islands, Phantogram, Beck. My indie pop-loving loins burned.

After discovering this would be my last opportunity to see some of these bands on their current tours, I made the decision to attend. Little in the way of plans were made, though it all fell into place when Marley secured me an artist wristband so I would have access to the artists themselves, as well as the mad comforts and perks. My heart soaring, I went straight to the closet to prepare my outfits. I was going to hang the fuck out.

photo (12)

Ballin’

We arrived at festival grounds late Friday night to get our credentials and the lay of the wonderland. Headliners Foo Fighters were already on, but my senses were on overload and there was no time for Dave Grohl’s sloppy, five-minute introduction to “Big Me.” I had to pee.

Naturally I searched for the nearest port-a-potty, but the only place in sight was the “VIP” bathroom. I felt an innate wave of reluctance to go in. This place has a sign and actual toilets. Am I allowed? I looked around and realized we were already in the VIP viewing area, having entered from the backstage artist compound. I quickly learned that my glittery, pimp purple wristband would get me a lot farther than some toilets.

Saturday morning I had time to kick around before Marley’s 12:30 set. Back in the artists’ area I was greeted by a well-presented breakfast buffet in divinely-decorated air conditioning. Outside, a smattering of others lay serenely on the beach or sipped morning cocktails in the shade. Aside from my inability to operate the fancy fruit fork in there, I felt at home.

As comfortable as this was, I had shows to see! I slung my CamelBak over my shoulder and skipped down to the beachfront tiki tent to take my place for Marley’s set, which was–surprise surprise–fantastic. His indie house sensitivities weaved effortlessly with an undercurrent of hip-hop and hip-ripping African rhythm, an hour-long wave designed specifically for the environment. And when I found myself trancing out to his original “Woodwork” between the ocean and some hot bitches in patriotic bikinis, I knew Jesus loved me. My blood rushed.

We had a break before Future Islands, a rising synthpop band we were both looking forward to, so we stopped for some chill time in the VIP pool next to the main stage. A metal fence divided the general viewing area from the raucous pool, where people who could afford to drop hundreds and even thousands of dollars on this weekend were afforded the privileges of separatism not even imagined in festival culture a few years ago. The discovery of the free beer bar tickled us both to bits, but at the same time we noted how sad it was that the general population were paying out the nose to get even remotely tipsy, only to sweat it out immediately under the intense heat.

I don’t regret the power I had to luxuriate, and at minimal expenditure at that, but it is clear that the swelling popularity of high-profile, corporate-sponsored mega-fests serves to reflect the growing divide between the everyday person and the financially fortunate, not reconcile it. As the chasm widens, the creative power structure tilts, and as these things tend to go, the sacrifice of the original intention will be railed against.

But when life gives you lemonade, you drink the shit out of it.

Sunday would be my jam. I woke up and prepped myself for eternal sunshine.

I ran into Jean-Philip Grobler of St. Lucia early in the day. I launched into my re-introductions, reminding him of our interview last year, but he convincingly remembered me. It probably helps that I was wearing the exact same loud, pink & teal lycra dress. We discussed their new album and an exquisite electro house band called Goldroom, whose set I stumbled into first thing that morning. Life is pretty.

Supercutie Jean-Philip of St. Lucia. Photo by Nina Westervelt via nylon.com

St. Lucia’s midday show was a highlight, though overly intense due to the raging sun and a couple of douchebag dudes who got even more lame when I asked to hit their joint. (ATTN: BROS AT SHOWS, when a cute dancing girl wants to smoke your weed, you say yes. You just do, weirdos!) They must never get laid. But St. Lucia laid it all down, the core songs from their debut When the Night sprinkled with some exciting new material. Fuuuck yes.

Afterward I went to kick it backstage until the evening. Crossing the patio I was charmed by a production assistant who mistook me for Sarah Barthel from Phantogram (dat hair), a few delicious seconds I savored before I had to deny it. That’s when Foster’s people showed back up, once again obnoxiously taking over the chessboard. Plastic cups and compostable plates soon littered the area.

The key band members weren’t hanging around at this point, but I joined the others to observe the boisterous chess match. I displaced a couple of warm beers from a chair and was immediately welcomed with a quick clean-up of the space by one of the unknowns. I lit a cigarette and had just gotten into my chaw groove when a violent check move sent a 12-inch knight sailing across the board and into my planted foot.

I clocked my throbbing ankle. “Owwwww,” I whined as my sunglasses met my assailant’s, a black-haired boy too cute for his own good.

“Oh, did I get you? I’m so sorry! Want a cigarette?” The sincerity of his apology coupled with the helpful cleaning guy warmed me, and I wondered if I hadn’t misjudged these excitable kids.

“Is it an American Spirit?” I hoped aloud, though I still took the Camel Crush he offered. Later in the evening that total babe would gift me an amethyst because “every beautiful girl needs a beautiful crystal.” That’s how it’s done, dudes and bros.

I’m climbing the steps to the stage, my heart fluttering. Turns out my wristband is my purple ticket to that coveted side-stage viewing I envisioned. Easy enough. The band is well into their first song, and I snuggle up close to the row of people already lining the railing. I will sing in their ears and dry hump them until they squirm away. I don’t care who they are; I will be on that railing.

Mark Foster has changed into beachy white jeans, his subdued dynamism complementary to the high physical activity of the percussionists behind him. For a band whose meteoric rise was born from that overcooked hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” these guys really have it going on.

It’s troubling though; I soon start to think how in certain ways it kind of sucks to stand up here. The sound is shit because the speakers face the audience (sound slut here), and there’s limited dancing room. But somewhere between my finally reaching the front of the railing and “Call It What You Want,” a song that makes me think of my son at home who is a big fan, I lean over and take a full drink of the scene before me.

Thousands of people raise their hands above their heads, clapping together to the collective beat, and during the last song I have a complete view of the armada of life-size beach balls that surges into the pulsing crowd. It is indeed an honor to witness this spectacle from the band’s perspective. I am on top of my world.

Starting around 1:00 you can see me up there in my pink & teal dress + white headscarf:

When it was time to pry myself away from drinks on the beach with Skrillex’s tour manager and go close out the weekend with Beck, I knew exactly where I would be standing. In the motherfuckin’ crowd.

You may recall I saw Beck last year here in Asheville, but this show was a whole other beast. The crush of people wanted one last good party, and the band made sure we got it. A setlist low on songs from last year’s halcyon album Morning Phase, Beck himself seemed genuinely thrilled to rock through his 20-year-old hits as well as playful, scorching takes on fan favorites like “Debra” and a 10-minute combo/outro “Where It’s At/One Foot in the Grave.” What. A. Joy.

Photo by Nina Westervelt via nylon.com

But those festival organizers were not playing around when it was time for everyone to GTFO. Once the band left the stage, even the artists’ lounge shut down, and several of us who tried to get back there for one last hurrah were crudely denied, our royal passes just another accessory after closing time. I launched my gratitude into the culminating fireworks show, Beats Antique’s Tommy Cappel whooping next to me.

With stars in my eyes and sand everywhere, I slogged back to my shared condo where I blended back into the eclectic crowd. There I was just another strange girl in a sea of strangers, squeezing out a few more good times on the beach before the inevitable drive home. And when the morning sun swept its golden tongue over the turquoise waves, I smiled to myself. I know I did what I came to do. I saw some incredible shows and took a big bite of the loftier life in music. And it is just my taste.

 

 

A Voice Comes Through: Ayla Nereo on Love, Fear, and Touring Radically with The Polish Ambassador

Photo by J Smilanic

My photographer friend and I are directed through to the main room of the Orange Peel where The Polish Ambassador crew are soundchecking. It’s Ayla Nereo’s vocals that stand out first, her honey-like voice winding through the streets of Polish’s bustling city of beats. Boston-born conscious hip-hop fave Mr. Lif is there too, getting his levels on a new collaborative track called “Shine Bright,” a delicious funk song that heats up even the chilly, empty venue.

Like typical touring musicians, the crew is here to support a new album, TPA’s Pushing Through the Pavement, but perhaps in an even greater way, they are pushing something quite unusual for the electronic scene: their accompanying Permaculture Action Tour.

The artists, with the help of a team of organizers and sustainability experts, are bringing their passion to not only music venues but farms, gardens, and even lifeless lots in 32 cities across the country. The day after every show, dozens and even hundreds of fans gather alongside the TPA troop to build, enliven, and connect: to the earth, to each other, to themselves. It brings tangible meaning to “party with a purpose.”

But before we get to all that, I want to know more about the woman behind the voice that’s become a staple of TPA’s sound. We’re sitting backstage in Ayla’s dressing room: clothes, bags and jewelry options strewn about (she’s just like us, girls). Gracious and at ease, she’s warmed up her throat and changed into her stage outfit, a bangin’ capri-length, white and silver bodysuit, keeping in line with the jumpsuit theme that rules the TPA Family.

Having grown up in a musical family, I ask her if singing is something she always wanted to do. “No, I was actually terrified of singing!” she admits, “I thought I wanted to be a film director…but it just started happening, songs started coming through.” Now she regularly teaches workshops on how to use the voice effectively and work through the fear of expression. “I think it’s an important piece that I was afraid of: using my voice. I had to go through the fear process.”

It certainly wasn’t a sense of fear that eventually found her writing rich, lyric-driven folk music and wanting to experiment with different recording processes. It was in the Oakland Ecstatic Dance community that she met producer David Sugalski, aka The Polish Ambassador, and started collaborating with him. “I had just finished my second to last album called BeHeld, and it had the first loop songs on it. Those loop songs were catchier and created those hooks, so I was asking a lot of the producers in the Ecstatic Dance community [to collaborate], and David was one of them.”

We don’t get into the juicy details of how they subsequently fell deeply in love (awww) and formed their duo project Wildlight, but I do inquire into the fascinating subject of navigating a romantic and professionally collaborative musical relationship.

“It’s all very, very woven. We tour together, we live together; it can get muddy sometimes. But the other piece is true; we also get to bring love in. The best shows are the ones where we’re in love with each other on stage the whole time. It’s carrying the music, too.”

It seems that they all carry each other. This theme leads us into the twin aspect of the Pushing Through the Pavement tour: the Permaculture Action Days.

What began as a rolling stone idea of Polish’s quickly gained traction, and a crowdfunding campaign was initiated to meet the financial needs for tools, supplies, education materials and organizers. The campaign was successful enough and took off, quite literally on the road, still with little idea of how it would turn out or who would actually show up to support the idea.

Ayla gushes: “The goal was just to bring some action days on tour, and it quickly grew into this thing where every single city was like ‘We want an action day!’ It became a big part of the momentum and the draw of this tour and the excitement around it. That, for us, has been really encouraging to see people’s interest in what we’re doing.”

She is relaxed and lucid as she remembers the disillusionment she sometimes felt on previous tours and how that’s flipped with this fresh sense of purpose. “It’s giving me a lot of hope to see what’s already going on in these communities…we’re trying to take all this fan energy and direct it…so they can be connected and not so reliant on this system that’s not working out.”

I imagine it’s difficult enough to be a touring musician, but pile manual laborer on top of that, and it must bring a whole new level of exhaustion. Nope. Not this crowd. She beams as she tells me how high the energy runs out there on the land.

“[That’s] the cool thing about having 100-300+ people at an action day. We’ve never been overworked…because there are so many hands on deck. That saying ‘many hands make light work’ is so absolutely true. We are seeing it. It’s giving me chills. To see how quickly and how easily things can happen because we’re all helping each other. We’re not on stage, we’re all just people, and we’re working on something together. It’s so much fun.”

The united focus is strong within Jumpsuit Records, the record label started by Polish and currently rebooting itself as a collective. “The idea is that we’re all in charge, we’re all going to decide who comes in, and we’re all going to promote each other.”

And after experiencing the success of the Permaculture Action Tour, they clearly can’t go back to the old model. “We’re focusing it around action-based touring and activism in that way, being a participant in the creation of this world that we want…together.”

Due to the shitty weather Halloween weekend, Asheville’s action day was relocated to the downtown bar Sovereign Remedies for a few hours of discussion and brainstorming, and it appeared to be a success in itself. It took me quite a while to even notice Ayla and David were there, blending perfectly with the earth-toned group, occasionally facilitating discussion but mostly enjoying Asheville community members forming connections and presenting their own ideas. Needless to say, they really dig Asheville. *swoon*

That’s what this is really all about for them: using their popularity to activate communities to sustain themselves.

“As artists we have a platform, and there’s a responsibility there to use it for the greater good. Whatever your platform is, there’s an ability to do something good with it.”

The Permaculture Action Tour is almost over, but tune in with The Polish Ambassador, Ayla Nereo, and the whole Jumpsuit Records collective to take part in the revolution. Oh, and all of their music is still Name Your Price. Dig it, y’all.

Photo by Fabian Productions via The Polish Ambassador

Photo by Fabian Productions via The Polish Ambassador

Happy Birthday, Martin L Gore!

Photo via modefan.com

Photo via modefan.com

Today we celebrate Martin L. Gore of Depeche Mode’s 53rd birthday! Wowee!

Any excuse to honor this man, really. As the chief songwriter of the first synth band to bring electronic music onto the global stage (and 30 years on still selling out arenas worldwide), all the while having managed to avoid pretension and all other forms of musician douchebaggery, Martin deserves all his cake and to eat it wherever he likes.

Happy birthday, Mr. Gore. We totally fucking love you!

Here’s one of his signature songs, “Home.” 1998 was a bit of a weird time because lead singer Dave Gahan had just gotten out of rehab, but Martin sounds great and everyone’s all better now. Enjoy!

Marley Carroll in a Hammock Haven: An Intoxicating Mix at Highland Brewing

Photo by J Smilanic

Photo by J Smilanic

For a company that specializes in laying your ass out in outrageously comfortable hammocks, Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO) knows a lot about parties. The festivities at Highland Brewing last Friday proved that.

As part of Highland’s (apparently months-long) 20th anniversary celebration, the brewery and ENO teamed up to host the July 11-12 events, parties to punctuate Night Flight, a four-mile race that benefits the Asheville Parks & Greenways Foundation. Now, I don’t know about any of that because I don’t run unless it’s to catch a plane or a concert, but yeah, I’m always down for hammocks + drinks + music. So when I pulled into the parking lot and the sprawling ENO Lotus Lounge unveiled itself before me, I knew I was exactly where I belonged.

The grassy area behind the brewery is just pleasant as can be. There’s an outdoor bar on one end of the field serving a handful of choice Highland beers, but silly Sally that I am, I go for the faceless white wine. The Lotus Lounge stretches its petals out, hammocks of every color strung between them; the kids dart under and around them like ants disturbed from their magnetic march, crawling over each other to snag any available part of parachute material as if it were all covered in honey. Anyone and everyone I want to see in this moment is here. I smoke mad cigs in processing how lovely it all is; the midsummer air is still thick and hot as the sun slips toward the horizon. A forest surrounds us.

Of course, my attention quickly falls on the guy in the DJ booth at the center of the lotus: local producer Marley Carroll. His familiar dark blond head bobs up and down to his beat, which for the time being is not much more than a general funk/pop playlist to please the masses. But I’m excited for what’s to come because I’ve just recently seen him at the Asheville Music Hall 4th of July show. And in combination with fellow locals BomBassic and Canadian producer Elaquent, it’s the hottest Asheville electronic show I’ve attended maybe ever.

As the night wears on and the kids exhaust themselves and their parents, Marley’s set moves deeper into his true style. I am posted under a lotus petal in front of him, dancing madly in the psychedelic lights, meeting his eyes from time to time because, I admit, I am way turned on. He begins to peel off originals and remixes, his transitions seamless, his (literally award-winning) scratching expertly sensitive.

Marley’s flawless fusion of heavy house beats and minimal, liquefied glitch makes his particular sound remarkably original and lush. Densely-packed layers of sound operate off one another, some stomping, some tapping, some swimming in open water. My body moves all the while, celebrating every molecule of this moment with ultimate conviction.

So, I just bought his album SingsYou can look forward to that review because it’s, oh, only blowing me away.

Big-ups to Highland Brewing, ENO, and Marley Carroll for the satisfaction. You will all be seeing me again. Bwahaha.

 

 

 

This Is My Brain On Beck: Live at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

Photo by Krista Schlueter via spin.com

Photo by Krista Schlueter via spin.com

[Editor’s note: Okay, there’s a lot I have to say about why Backstage Sass has been gone for three months and now looks like total shit all over again, but suffice it to say that GoDaddy is a sleazy bag of dicks. We’ll get to that later. Right now, I just want to talk about Beck because that's all that really matters.]

“Oh god, I’m so sorry,” I say as I make a poor attempt at soaking up with my bare hand the champagne I’ve just spilled on the gentleman sitting by the aisle I’ve just tripped in. I’m prepared to face the reality of my more-than-slight intoxication when he looks up at me with a pair of innocent, sparkly blue eyes, and I know he is genuine when he says it’s totally fine. We’re vibing on the same level of excitement for the show that makes us untouchable. I leave him and his wife–who’s looking on with a mixture of amusement and disgust–with my sincere apologies and proceed to my seat, laughing and weeping inside all the way.

Somehow it had slipped my mind completely that Beck was coming to Asheville on July 12, so in a mad dash to procure a ticket two days earlier, I Craigslist whored it all the way up. I contacted about 10 people with seats in the orchestra, prepared to pay upwards of $100 to see Beck’s sweat (hey, that kind of thing is important to me), but in the end I wound up in the next section back, mezzanine center, ultimately a lovely spot for a reasonable price.

I’m sitting next to David and John, two guys from way the fuck out on some mountain east of here, and they’re laughing at the spill I just took on that guy. David is startlingly attractive in a conventional way and a big Pearl Jam fan, so I know this will be better than sitting next to that crisp-shirted douchehole on my recent flight to Boston.

“Did you see the opener?” I ask, referring to The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Sean Lennon’s band. They did while I missed it completely, having peeked in upon arrival but figuring there was still time to get a drink before catching the bulk of their set. I was wrong; they’d left the stage by the time I returned.

What I heard when I entered the dark theater didn’t grab me, but I admit I haven’t cared enough to familiarize myself with their music at all. Still, to witness Sean Lennon onstage, his long, frizzy black hair covering his face Yoko-style as he picks dangerously at an electric guitar, is noteworthy. The GOASTT has some weirdo music videos and will obviously never achieve great recognition while poor Sean will always be compared to the incomparable legacy of his father, but what else is a guy supposed to do when he wants to play music and has to live with John Lennon’s exact face? That’s gotta be rough.

Finally the house lights dim again, the full auditorium erupts in applause, and suddenly Beck’s band is coming in swinging with “Devil’s Haircut.” The sound is fuzzy in the Thomas Wolfe, but my virgin sight on the one and only Beck Hansen, grooving across the stage looking like a hip Amish preacher, makes up for it.

There is something to be said for seeing someone live who’s only existed to you via stereo for the last 20 years. The familiarity of a song I’ve known since childhood juxtaposed with the space pop of something like “Gamma Ray” and psycho-geometrical stage visuals threatens to overwhelm me, but I am reminded of the earthliness of this moment: Beck’s deep, dense voice that has rapped, screamed, crooned and bled into me over the years comforts me, and I invite myself to exist alongside him in this moment.

Most of what’s going on lyrically is indiscernible, but everyone knows what to do during the choruses of the thunderstorm hits like “The New Pollution” and “Loser,” to which he adds entire verses and/or has just forgotten the original wacko words. Fuckin works for me.

Generally, the setlist pleases the hell out of me, my darlings; I was unsure how it would be mixed for this tour, the lushness and sentiment of his latest album Morning Phase more comparable to Sea Change than Midnite Vultures. And while he has performed some seriously mellow sets, the man knows how to throw a party, and electro hits from across the board appropriately support the more emotionally lucid songs like“Lost Cause” and this year’s mushroom-trip meditation “Wave.” I can’t for the life of me understand what is wrong with all the people who choose “The Golden Age” to go to the bathroom. I could die right here in my own arms.

The sold-out auditorium has been beautifully responsive throughout the whole show, but the buzz seems to get down to the molecular level as we approach the end. “Girl” and “E-Pro” open up a new plane of mega-funness, and the only thing that separates the main set from the encore is the head-scratching application of caution tape across the stage and Beck’s inquiry as to “what kind of laws [we] like to defy” here in Asheville. Forget pot, public drunkenness, and acute civil disobedience; the answer is of course SEXX LAWS!

Beck channels his hilarious inner James Brown and Al Green with “Debra” after that and then closes it out with “Where It’s At.” Sean Lennon even comes back to play tambourine, the ol’ sport. Then, as if waking from a dream, the transition from 2500 voices shouting “I got two turntables and a microphone” into everyone-getting-the-fuck-out is seamless. These guys are pros.

If I hadn’t continued to hang out with my seat-neighbors David and John, I would have pulled my usual old school groupie shit and gone around back to try to intercept the man himself. I didn’t even CHECK OUT the situation; tour bus or black car? But honestly, I would have been too late anyway. Everyone knows you have to work that shit out during soundcheck.

Dig the setlist here

Songs I Wouldn’t Kick Out of Bed: Nicotine & Gravy, Mixed Bizness, Novacane, Nobody’s Fault But My Own (they didn’t play ANYTHING from Mutations! Ack!)

Random celeb sighting: Saw Charlie Day in a drink line. You know, this guy.